Speaking of Clint (see 28 February post), we went to see Gran Torino this evening. It’s an excellent film, though Eastwood seems to be getting just a little bit more sugary as he gets older (he’s 78 now). However, I don’t agree with those critics who say that it provides an all-round happy ending. There can be no happy ending for the street gang depicted in the film. Its members are virtually condemned to a viscious spiral of violence, crime and imprisonment. Most Eastwood films have a nuggety one-liner that sticks in the memory. The one this time is, talking about the horrors of war, that ‘the thing that haunts a man most is what he isn’t ordered to do.’ Good stuff.
The EESC’s Budget Group all afternoon. In seeking a new level of transparency and a new, far more strategic, overview for the members, we are all, members and administration, learning by doing, but at the same time we are constrained by the simple fact that our preliminary draft budget for 2010 has to be transmitted to the European Commission by 23 March at the latest, which is hellishly early. It is not easy to introduce a wholesale revolution, including the construction of a new Directorate, in the space of a few months. (The Bureau’s mandate to my Vice-President, Seppo Kallio, was adopted in November, the new Establishment Plan only in December.) Fortunately, the Budget Group members have well understood that we won’t reach true ‘cruising speed’ until we start looking at the 2011 budget. That said, huge progress has already been made and I am sure that our new approach of decentralising budgetary envelopes and hence responsibility to the Committee’s spending actors themselves (linked to regular monitoring and reporting) is what helped convince the budgetary authority to free up the € 1 m that had been placed in the ‘reserve’ so early in this budgetary year.
The usual coordination meeting with my directors all morning. These meetings seem to come around so fast. By a rough calculation I have chaired over twenty of them already since I took up the cudgels on 1st October last year (and, by the way, today marks the beginning of my six month as SG already!). On this morning’s agenda there were two more substantive and out-of-the-ordinary points. One concerned part-time working conditions, and the other the ‘securitisation’ (I know, the word doesn’t exist) of electronic documents. Both may seem humdrum and mundane but are actually very important to the way this adminstration is able to do its work.
The European Council is meeting in Brussels today to discuss the deepening economic and financial crisis. The painful consequences are becoming ever-more apparent (in Italy recently we were served one evening by a lady who tearfully told us how her husband, a skilled metalworker, simply couldn’t find work), but maybe not everywhere. On 19 February Eurostat issued statistics for GDP per capita income in 271 regions of the 27 EU member states. In 2006 the four regions at the top of the per capita GDP list were inner London (336% of the EU 27 average!), Luxembourg (267%), Brussels (233%) and Hamburg (200%). The lowest per capita GDP was in the north-east of Romania and Severozapadan in Bulgaria (both at 25%!). Every year there is a big exhibition and fair in Brussels, at the Heysel exhibition centre, for the construction industry, Batibouw. I had so far successfully managed to avoid this particular shrine of consumerism but this morning was convinced to go. And what did we find? Massive crowds and not the slightest hint of economies, let alone a recession. Much used to be made of Europe’s ‘hot banana’ of prosperity (London, Brussels, Luxembourg and Hamburg were firmly in its northern tip) and it seems it may now have become an island amid the recession. Timothy Garton Ash recently wrote in the Guardian about Europe being torn between ‘essential solidarity and national egoism’ but if the hot banana is still flourishing (and it certainly looked like that at Batibouw this morning) then the egoism could be regional as much as anything else.